GAINESVILLE, GEORGIA (AP) — A liquid nitrogen leak at a northeast Georgia poultry plant killed six people on Thursday and sent 11 others to the hospital, officials said.
At least three of those injured at the Foundation Food Group plant in Gainesville were reported in critical condition. Poultry plants rely on refrigeration systems that can include liquid nitrogen. Sheriff’s deputies, the United States (US) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the state fire marshall were investigating the deaths and cause of the leak.
“It will be a lengthy process,” Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said. “It’s not something that’s quick.”
Foundation Food Group Vice President for Human Resources Nicholas Ancrum called the leak a tragic accident and said early indications are that a nitrogen line ruptured in the facility.
When leaked into the air, liquid nitrogen vaporises into an odourless gas that’s capable of displacing oxygen. That means leaks in enclosed spaces can become deadly by pushing away breathable air, according to the US Chemical Safety Board.
Gainesville is the hub of Georgia’s poultry industry, which is the largest in the country. Thousands of employees work across multiple processing plants around the city and much of the workforce, like in many meat processing plants nationwide, is Latino.